How Much 'Modesty' Will Republicans Bring to Congress?

Parsing the implications of a John Boehner-led majority

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"We have nothing to fear from letting the House work its will—nothing to fear from the battle of ideas...The result will be more scrutiny and better legislation," said John Boehner in a National Journal interview. With the GOP expecting sweeping gains and control of at least one house of Congress, prognosticators are already guessing how a Boehner-lead majority will govern. The specifics, of course, will be determined after the election results are finally tallied in the next days and weeks. The subject, however, is already being heavily debated among Republican leaders and soon-to-be influential Tea Party backers. It's also a pressing concern for pundits, who evaluate the possibilities for the new Congress and, naturally, disagree about almost everything.

  • They'll Compromise: If Boehner Has His Way, Republicans Will Lead More 'Cautiously'  In an wide-ranging interview with National Journal's Major Garrett, the presumptive House speaker says to the correspondent that "if given the chance, [he] intends to lead more cautiously and—significantly—more slowly, than Gingrich did. He will set no audacious legislative deadlines...and will enact no radical new technological or procedural reforms." To be able to sell this restrained agenda to an aggressive and eager class of freshman, Boehner may need to institute a second "pledge" to America. Boehner is also planning on proceeding "more slowly and methodically than Republicans did the last time they captured the House in the landslide of 1994." He appears to understand, Garrett writes, that popular opinion and election cycles are "spinning more quickly" than they have in past.
  • No They Won't: It's a 'Pleasant Fantasy' To Think GOP Will Be Sensible Washington Monthly's Steve Benen harbors no illusions that Republicans will be to restrain themselves when they arrive in power. "Is there any evidence -- any at all -- to support such an assumption? Not only have GOP leaders spent the last two years acting like spoiled children, uninterested in any serious policy work, they've also sent the last two weeks boldly proclaiming their intention to refuse to compromise with anyone about anything. Indeed, the number of Republicans talking about shutting down the government next year is already pretty large, and it's getting bigger."
  • They'll Get Rid of the Tea Party: Abandoning Fringe Ideas and Governing Center-Right  In order to please their Tea Party base, Slate's Jacob Weisberg predicts that "the GOP's congressional leadership will feint right while legislating closer to the center." What makes this prediction plausible is that "the House leaders-in-waiting are, by and large, [aren't an] ideological group." Weisberg argues that "the American public likes Republican themes of more liberty and less government better than it likes Democratic themes of compassion and fairness. But when it comes to the specifics, the situation is reversed." This may lead to a Republican Congress legislating to the center.
  • No They Won't: Tea Partiers Are Forging Major Partnerships  A team of Wall Street Journal reporters provides a lengthy assessment of the state of the Tea Party, and concludes that the movement is angling to become a more permanent part of the GOP. While there has been "distrust" between establishment Republicans and Tea Partiers, they see the "GOP as a good vehicle for their aspirations—and as GOP establishment candidates were toppled, party leaders came to embrace the tea-party crowd as well. That marriage, at least for now, has aided Republicans." The reporters also observe that many Tea Party organizations are beginning to form institutions with an eye on influencing policy and financially supporting candidates they agree with. How they handle this transition is the key to the movement's permanence.
  • The GOP May Compromise and Attempt to Reduce Deficit  In a Newsweek cover story (which featured John Boehner getting the Shepard Fairey treatment), staff editors detail the Republican's probable efforts to govern in an array of domestic areas (taxes, deficit, health care, climate/energy among them). With regards to lowering the deficit, the writers consider the president's bipartisan fiscal commission as the likeliest route to lowering the deficit: "At that point, the Tea Party–fueled Republican majority will have to decide whether it’s willing to countenance a compromise plan that’s likely to combine tax increases with spending cuts...or if the price of debt reduction is simply too steep."
  • No They Won't: The Deficit Will Be Even Larger "Republicans won’t do much to rein in spending. And if they cut taxes, there won’t be enough revenue to fund the budget," figures Cynthia Tucker at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The result is a deficit that may be larger in two years. The health insurance law will reduce the deficit over ten years, not add to it, according to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office. But continuing to depress revenues with a huge tax cut for rich Americans will certainly make the deficit larger," she writes.
  • Republicans Should Lay the Groundwork for 2012  Weekly Standard editor William Kristol makes the case for Republicans to "improve lives" in the here-and-now and adopt a patient strategy  for 2012. Republicans will "argue that the next presidential election is decisively important, and that much of the effort in the next Congress must be viewed as laying the groundwork for victory in November 2012." In the current session, Kristol notes that "extending the current tax rates...would help the economy right now. Definitively taking cap and trade and card check off the legislative table would also help the economy."
  • But, They Probably Won't Win in Four Years   In a Washington Post contribution Dylan Loewe, a Democratic strategist, notes the silver lining for embattled Democrats: changing voter demographics are on their side (Jonah Goldberg might disagree). "Tea Party Republicans are a dying demographic. Populations are shrinking in the South and in rural areas. Massive growth among Democratic constituencies is expected to be accompanied by static—and in some cases, declining growth—within the Republican base. That formula will require the Republican party to change if it wants to stay a majority party....over the long term, what looks like a celebration will be more akin to a wake."
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